Tightening Security After Navy Yard Tragedy Becomes a Balancing Act

Charles S. Clark, Government Executive
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Charles S. Clark, Government Executive
Dec. 18, 2013, 6:02 a.m.

Les­sons from Septem­ber’s Wash­ing­ton Navy Yard shoot­ings should not in­clude ex­pand­ing met­al-de­tect­or searches, build­ing-se­cur­ity ex­perts said on Tues­day.

But next steps ought to in­volve im­proved train­ing of guards and heightened mon­it­or­ing of agency com­pli­ance with re­com­men­ded risk-mit­ig­a­tion pro­ced­ures.

Of­fi­cials from the Home­land Se­cur­ity and De­fense de­part­ments de­fen­ded the pro­gress that’s been made on build­ing se­cur­ity gov­ern­mentwide since the in­cid­ent, in which men­tally troubled con­tract­or Aaron Alex­is brought weapons in­to Navy Yard Build­ing 197 and murdered 12 co-work­ers.

“In the af­ter­math, it is only nat­ur­al that we won­der if all people en­ter­ing a fed­er­al fa­cil­ity — even em­ploy­ees — should be screened in some way,” said Sen­at­or Tom Carp­er ( D-Del.), chair­man of the Sen­ate Home­land Se­cur­ity and Gov­ern­ment­al Af­fairs Com­mit­tee. “Should we — to bor­row a phrase from Ron­ald Re­agan — ‘trust, but veri­fy?’”

Carp­er framed the hear­ing by ask­ing how agen­cies de­term­ine the threats to their spe­cif­ic fa­cil­it­ies; wheth­er agen­cies are prop­erly as­sess­ing and pri­or­it­iz­ing the vul­ner­ab­il­it­ies; and how they are re­spond­ing to threats as they evolve.

Tough ques­tion­ing came from Sen­at­or Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), who faul­ted both the in­ter­gov­ern­ment­al body ad­vising agen­cies on im­prov­ing se­cur­ity and the qual­ity of train­ing of primar­ily con­tract guards in con­front­ing act­ive shoot­ers. “There doesn’t seem to be a lot of co­ordin­a­tion and when there is, there’s not much fol­low-up,” she said. “When the pub­lic sees a uni­formed se­cur­ity guard sit­ting at a desk, there’s an aura of power” ex­cept that the guard’s cap­ab­il­it­ies and role are not clear. “It sends the wrong mes­sage to the pub­lic.”

Though loc­al com­mand­ers have the op­tion of re­quir­ing ran­dom screen­ing of people en­ter­ing a fa­cil­ity, “the draw­back to screen­ing is a neg­at­ive im­pact on mis­sion,” said Steph­en Lewis, deputy dir­ect­or for per­son­nel, in­dus­tri­al and phys­ic­al se­cur­ity policy at the Of­fice of the Un­der­sec­ret­ary of De­fense for In­tel­li­gence. “With 10,000 people com­ing in the same win­dow, there’s a dis­in­cent­ive to get­ting the work done.”

Once back­ground checks are per­formed, “you have to trust the sys­tem,” said Caitlin Durkovich, Home­land Se­cur­ity’s as­sist­ant sec­ret­ary for in­fra­struc­ture pro­tec­tion. “There are op­por­tun­ity costs and re­source im­plic­a­tions” to check­ing every­one.

Some agen­cies, such as the Trans­port­a­tion De­part­ment, already screen all em­ploy­ees, said L. Eric Pat­ter­son, dir­ect­or of the Fed­er­al Pro­tect­ive Ser­vice. “But after a back­ground check, people are trust­worthy, so I would think this through care­fully.”

In dis­cuss­ing solu­tions, wit­nesses said all agen­cies are study­ing re­sponses to act­ive shoot­ers. They poin­ted to the lim­its on train­ing of guards, who, dur­ing a crisis, fo­cus on shield­ing and evac­u­at­ing em­ploy­ees but de­pend on loc­al law en­force­ment un­der vary­ing state laws to pur­sue an at­tack­er. They are per­mit­ted to con­front a live shoot­er on sight but can­not leave their posts in pur­suit, which re­quires find­ing “a happy me­di­um” between re­spond­ing and keep­ing se­cur­ity of­ficers safe, Pat­ter­son said. “There are thou­sands of build­ings, and we don’t have re­sources to put law en­force­ment in every build­ing.”

Durkovich said gov­ern­mentwide pro­tec­tion is a “risk-based pro­cess.” Not all build­ings are the same, she said, not­ing that strategies dif­fer for urb­an versus rur­al build­ings and, for ex­ample, for build­ings that have child care cen­ters or his­tor­ic des­ig­na­tions.

She ac­know­ledged un­der ques­tion­ing that com­pli­ance with re­com­mend­a­tions of the in­ter­gov­ern­ment­al pan­el set up after the 1993 bomb­ing of the fed­er­al build­ing in Ok­lahoma City has been left to the agen­cies them­selves.

Pat­ter­son said his agency has met six of 13 Gov­ern­ment Ac­count­ab­il­ity Of­fice re­com­mend­a­tions for im­prove­ments in train­ing and com­mu­nic­a­tion with staff. GAO ana­lyst Mark Gold­stein, however, test­i­fied that FPS “con­tin­ues to lack ef­fect­ive man­age­ment con­trols to en­sure its guards have met its train­ing and cer­ti­fic­a­tion re­quire­ments.”

Lewis said since the Navy Yard at­tack, the Pentagon has con­duc­ted “in­tern­al re­views of gaps and de­fi­cien­cies and shared oth­er agency best prac­tices.” He ex­pressed prom­ise in a new “en­ter­prise-wide” tool called the Iden­tity Man­age­ment En­ter­prise Ser­vices Ar­chi­tec­ture that provides real-time vet­ting of in­di­vidu­als re­quir­ing un­es­cor­ted ac­cess against mul­tiple data­bases.

Re­prin­ted with per­mis­sion from Gov­ern­ment Ex­ec­ut­ive. The ori­gin­al story can be found here.

This art­icle was pub­lished in Glob­al Se­cur­ity News­wire, which is pro­duced in­de­pend­ently by Na­tion­al Journ­al Group un­der con­tract with the Nuc­le­ar Threat Ini­ti­at­ive. NTI is a non­profit, non­par­tis­an group work­ing to re­duce glob­al threats from nuc­le­ar, bio­lo­gic­al, and chem­ic­al weapons.

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